Powered by Bravenet Bravenet Blog

Subscribe to Journal

Sunday, May 1st 2016


A Festschrift for Dr. Norman L. Geisler


Time to get back to the old blog to talk about some things too long for a Facebook post.

The catalyst this time is that yesterday (Saturday) I received in the mail a copy of the long-awaited Festschrift in honor of Dr. Norman L. Geisler.

I Am Put Here

What is a “Festschrift?” you ask. That’s a German term referring to a­­n anthology of essays and recollections in honor of a scholar who has made great contributions over a long career. More often than not, it’s tied to a particular point in time, such as the person’s 65th birthday, or whatever. It’s a good thing that this one wasn’t attached to any special event because it took a whole lot longer to see the light of print than was anticipated by any of the contributors, let alone by Terry Miethe, who edited this tome.

Actually, this is the second book that has been called a “Festschrift” for Norm. The first one, To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview (IVP, 2004), was edited by Frank Beckwith, Bill Craig, and J. P. Moreland. It bore the secondary subtitle Essays in Honor of Norman L. Geisler, and it contains good articles by good people. There are four of us who have made contributions to both books, Ravi Zacharias, the Brothers Howe (Thomas and Richard), and your humble bloggist. There are a lot of names on the front cover, including mine, though not as Win Corduan. For anthologies my pen name is “and others,” and so I show up on a lot of book covers.

As I’m poking just a little bit of fun, please know that, my silliness aside, in terms of content, the 2004 book is truly excellent. Also, the occasion of its release actually got me a one-time invitation to take part in one of Bill Craig’s annual apologetics conferences. The title of my article in the 2004 volume was “Miracles,” not entirely the focus of my scholarship, but a topic that I do enjoy writing on from time to time.

Part of that enjoyment comes from the predictable knee jerk reactions one gets from internet atheists who get outraged by my conviction that they’re not qualified to determine if, when, or how a miracle may have occurred. After all, they’re atheists. They don’t think that God exists; in fact, many of them are not at all hesitant to tell us in so many words that people who believe in God are intellectual Neanderthals. But surely, if that’s their position, then they would be really bad internet atheists if they thought they could decide whether God had performed a miracle at a certain time and place. You can’t have miracles without a God who does them. So my duty is to shield internet-atheists from violating whatever oath or other formality they may have taken to ridicule Christians and other religious people. Maybe they pledge their allegiance to Richard Carrier or the well-known subject mentioned in the opening verse of Psalm 14 . I wouldn’t know. Nobody likes an inconsistent atheist, and if they try to declare what Christians should believe about miracles, we owe it to them to clarify that their opinions are irrelevant and hopefully thereby keep them from looking silly. If you don’t believe in God, you may perhaps believe in magic, but not miracles. (Note: not all atheists are “internet atheists.”)

Sorry, I'm still stacking as always. Pop!

Alas, as good as the 2004 anthology is, it did not contain many of the features that typically come with a genuine Festschrift, such as personal memories of the person honored. Terry Miethe decided that Norm deserved something that really fit the typical pattern and took the initiative to edit a book that conformed much more to the usual expectations for a Festschrift. Terry and I both go back to the golden years of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when its faculty was a veritable Who’s Who in evangelical scholarship. We both got our MA’s the same year, with Norm as our thesis director. Terry went on to get his first [sic!] Ph.D. at St. Louis University only three years later and not too soon thereafter a second one at USC. He also bears the official title of “DPhil Oxon cand.,” which means he has done doctoral studies at Oxford University. You know, that old school in England.

I probably still have Terry’s e-mail somewhere, in which he invited various folks who have had close associations with Norm to contribute to his effort. I won’t check it now, and I can’t even remember right now what year that was, but his words for the project were something along the line of “I will get this done or die trying.” It turned out that he came close to the second option. He saw it through during a time when his wife, Beverly, was fighting cancer, and he also has come down with health issues. If I understand things correctly, he’s had to take early retirement on disability shortly after taking an unpaid semester-long leave to work on this project. Adding the virtual inability to find a publisher for what turned out to be a 441-page tome added a lot of stress to his life, which he did not need. Amazingly, with God’s help, he made it! And we are thankful to Wipf & Stock for publishing the book.

I think I understand now why Craig, Beckwith, and Moreland got their volume published with apparently little difficulty, namely because they did not include much of the usual Festschrift materials, but basically stuck with the collection of essays. At this juncture in time, publishers apparently are leery of investing in Festschriften because they see them as having ephemeral significance. Once the occasion is over, people have a copy of the book as quasi-souvenirs, and there may be no further call for it. In your bloggist’s opinion, the potential publishers are probably right for many cases, but in the case of Norm Geisler, may have been just a bit short-sighted. I’m pretty sure that this anthology will have a long life. Norm Geisler has left a large legacy, and—let’s face it—there are some really good essays in that book.  

Speaking of the essays, different readers will have varying opinions of them, and I expect that some of the reviews will reflect their personal opinions on “Stormin’ Norman” as much as, or perhaps even more than, the value of the contributions. Many of the essays are framed by the authors’ reminiscences of how Norm affected their lives. Terry did me the honor of taking my remembrance and moving it into the first section, entitled “Tributes to Norman L. Geisler,” under the heading of “Biographical Reflections” (xxxv-xxxvi). There I recount how … Oh, did you really think I was just going to give it away here?

Aquinas by Scrivelli

For my article I chose a somewhat improved version of a paper that I wrote for Norm as part of an independent study in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas entitled “Some Features of Finite Being in St. Thomas Aquinas” (169-191). He had taught a course on Aquinas a couple of years earlier, and it would not be on the schedule again for a while, so I worked through the Angelic Doctor’s writings relying on various good resources and the occasional consultation with Norm. This would not be the last time that I would be grateful for all of the years of studying Latin (which I would eventually even teach), and it certainly came in handy there as well as for my thesis and—much later—my Ph.D. dissertation.

I might mention here parenthetically that for my first year of teaching at Taylor U, my department head and the dean had arranged that my teaching load would be just a little lower than normal (at the time 28 hrs. a year), but I gave up the load reduction for the spring semester because the philosophy majors asked me to, please, give them a course on Aquinas. Like I always say, Taylor students have been and probably still are simply the best! (Yet another stack! :) )

Anyway, I remember vividly writing that paper. It would have been at the end of the first quarter of my second year at Trinity and, thereby, when June and I had been married for just a few months. We lived in Kenosha, WI, because the cost of subsistence in Wisconsin was so much lower than in Illinois and it was worth the longish commute. At the time the MA program in philosophy required of 72 quarter hours of class work (usually two full years) plus a thesis, theoretically written during the second year while also taking a full load of classes. Many of us squeezed the two years into three.

In my typical fashion I waited to write the paper until the very last moment, specifically two days before it was due. First, I needed copies of some of Aquinas’ works that were only available at the nearby St. Mary’s Seminary in Mundelein, IL. (The most amazing library I have ever been in, right out of a medieval setting.) Since I wanted to take the books home, inter-library loan was the means to procure them for a time, but that would usually take several days. So, I devised a method that caused the raising of a few eye brows. “We’ve never done things this way before” was the response I got on both Trinity’s and St. Mary’s ends. I suspect they may not have allowed it after my machinations either, but the surprise factor probably helped me out. With an honest-looking guy (with beard and long hair, of course) standing there staring innocently and pleadingly into the librarian’s eyes, I got approval on both ends. I asked the inter-library loan person at Trinity if she would sign the request forms for a few volumes, e.g. De Potentia Dei, then personally took the forms to St. Mary’s and picked up the books in the name of inter-library loan. I was warned on both ends that if I screwed up (undoubtedly not the expression they used), my days of utilizing library services at St. Mary’s were over, but I was good and returned the books before they were due back. (Nowadays all those works are on-line.)

Then I went home, stacked the books on one side of the desk and started typing the final text right then and there; no note cards, outlines, or rough drafts. I do not recommend that method, but 1) there was no time for any preliminaries, 2) I had a clear outline in my head, and, thus, I knew exactly where I was going and which books contained the content that I needed, and 3) I was a good typist (and I guess I still am, though word processing has taken the adventure out of it), so I knew that slow and inaccurate typing would not be a serious impediment.

The bottom line: Norm liked the paper, and wrote some comments on the front that I am far too humble to disclose. With its publication, I hope that further readers will also enjoy it and learn from it. If not mine, then surely some of the other essays.

Other than Norm’s name, Terry’s is the only one on the front cover. And that’s how it should be. No “stars,” no special mentions, and, best of all, no “and others.” Thank you, Terry, for your work on this project and for pouring so much of yourself into it.

4 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, December 9th 2015


Islam Material Gathered

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Tired of this topic.

This post is merely intended to let you know that all of the blog material on Islam from the last month or so has now been gathered at one site. You may find it more convenient to read the entries first to last, rather than having to backtrack blog-style. 

1 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, December 9th 2015


Isis and it Expansion, part 6

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Happy to be done with this project (if, indeed I am)

This entry is the straightforward continuation of what I posted just a few minutes ago (part 5). It won’t make any sense without reading that entry first. (I don’t know that it will with it, but I know it won’t without it. :)  I will provide further formatting in a little while. 

The Early Situation in General

After a period away from large population Boko Haram established itself in Maiduguri, the capital city of the state of Borno. Its adherents probably came primarily from Muslims in northern Nigeria, who perceived that their condition in life, frequently abject poverty, was due to having to live in a non-Muslim (many would say “anti-Muslim”) society. However, as Cook astutely points out (2014, 5-6), if so, it would still be an unwarranted stretch to ascribe rampant poverty as the cause or raison d'être for Boko Haram as an organization. The means for recruiting members frequently do not dovetail with the overall goals of a group. I don't know to what extent Yusuf used this strategy intentionally, but it is certainly often easier to rally people together under the hatred of a common perceived enemy than under a common cause to attain a positive goal. 

Ever since 2002 Boko Haram carried out armed raids, frequently in order to obtain weapons as spoils in order to arm themselves and to bolster their often-meagre finances, but also to create fear among the population as they destroyed products of "Western Learning," such as schools, churches, medical facilities, medical storage sites, and, yes, quite a few mosques.

Inadequate Responses

Inside of Nigeria resistance was provided almost entirely by the Nigerian police, aka Security Forces, and occasionally vigilante groups (Cook, 2014, 14). Because Boko Haram frequently crossed the borders into Chad and Niger, either for raids or to seek concealment, the governments of those two countries used their armies to keep Boko Haram out of their land and hair. But they could not have an effect in stopping Boko Haram's advances in northern Nigeria. The intended goal of the establishment of northern Nigeria (at a minimum) as a separate Islamic state was slowly starting to take on reality. Only one crucial military unit, in fact, the most essential one, did not get involved, and that is--no, with all due respect, not the United States Marines--the army of Nigeria itself.

Cook points out some apparently inexplicable aspects in this set of events. One such was the fact that the Nigerian government did not act to protect schools.

What is most interesting for the outside observer is that there does not appear to have been any serious security measures in place in any of these locations. For Boko Haram’s attacks to be defeated, there needs to be a system for guarding and alarm for isolated schools. It is unclear, when Boko Haram has set educational institutions as its target, why the Nigerian government and military have not responded with setting up the appropriate security measures (Cook, 2014, 12).

However, the most glaring enigma is the more general one included in the above quotation, that the Nigerian government just did not get involved in earnest until finally in the spring of 2015, i.e. this year. Cook asserts in 2014 that “the track record of the Nigerian military to counter Boko Haram has been a miserable one” (2014, 14), and I’m afraid that he made a vast understatement when he wrote those lines.

The news agency al-Jazeera carried an article recounting the experience of a captain in the Nigerian army who had been sent out with about thirty men to rid a town of about 200 Boko Haram recruits. They received their orders and weapons (mortars/grenade launchers) with little notice and headed out to carry out their mission. When they were sufficiently entrenched and the combat commenced, the Nigerian soldiers to a man realized that their equipment was broken and the ammunition was out of date and spoiled. On the other hand, the Boko Haram fighters were relatively well-equipped and definitely trained in the use of modern weaponry. (I'll come back to that point below.) Somehow Captain X and his men prevailed by using their handguns and actually receiving reinforcements in response to their plea. However, that's as far as the Nigerian military was willing to take their mission, a few pro forma interventions here and there, but no significant effort, while the police and foreign military fought to contain Boko Haram as much as they were able. Cook describes the period from about 2010 to 2014 as a civil war in which only one side was fighting (2014, 29).

Some Significant Events

I am not going to detail the many inhumane acts carried out by the group over the last few years. Please see Cook's papers and other various articles on and off line. I must seriously caution you that if you're prone to physical reactions from descriptions of torture and other violations, such as the abduction of hundreds of 10-12 year old girls and their subsequent ordeals, you should not pursue the events in a lot of detail. Still, reality is what it is, and I do need to highlight a couple of occurrences over the years.

2009: The Execution of Muhammad Yusuf

The original leader of Boko Haram, as mentioned, was one Muhammad Yusuf. It became an open secret that, whereas he was expecting all of his followers to live a highly frugal existence, he enjoyed a life of luxury and indulgence (another enigma, but one that is widespread across many different cultures and religions). On July 25, 2009, the federal police in Maiduguri captured members of Boko Haram, which enabled them to track and arrest Yusuf. Cook (2011, 11-12) provides a translated excerpt of his interrogation in the police headquarters, which reads almost like a segment from Abbot and Costello. Yusuf was manipulative, mendacious, and verging on being insolent in his initial responses. Predictably, though not excusably, his captors reacted with increased anger. They humiliated and intimidated him, and eventually simply killed him without any further process of justice. A video of what happened is posted on YouTube, but I'm not going to link to it. There’s no need for us to get desensitized to brutality. If you really need to see it, e.g. for writing a term paper, it’s easy enough to find.

Needless to say, the execution of Yusuf caused a short pause in Boko Haram's activities, only to be renewed with increased vigor and a sizable increase in membership 2010 under the leadership of one Abubakar Shekau, a person who has made up for his apparent lack of knowledge both inside and outside of Islam by displaying unparalleled cruelty in word and deed.

Sidelight: It is interesting to me now that  in early November of 2009 I had a short conversation with a Nigerian Senator that touched on religion in his country. At the time I had no idea of what had happed a few months earlier, and my new acquaintance, clearly a serious Christian, obviously saw no need to bring it up. I attach no significance to that fact, except that I now realize how close I was to someone whose opinion I would have valued, had I only known about the situation and been tactless enough to ask.

Declaring a Caliphate

“Boko Haram” has always been a nickname, though its members and leaders used it themselves. However, in 2014, they changed their official designation to ISWA, Islamic State of West Africa, and stated that from that time on they constituted a caliphate. When I first read about that announcement, I tried to figure out whether it meant that ISWA was establishing its own caliphate under Shekau or aligning itself with the caliphate of Caliph Ibrahim of ISIS. Then I realized that much of the rest of the world also did not know what this new claim entailed either. I suspect that initially Shekau may have thought of himself as the ideal candidate, but since then ISWA has extended a request to ISIS to become a part of its team, and ISIS has accepted the offer.

Sidelight: One can find a number of good articles debunking the idea that the office of "caliph" truly has the great significance that many Muslims and Western analysts tend to ascribe to the term. From my standpoint as a scholar interested in precision, I appreciate such corrections; as a scholar interested in the role of religions in the contemporary world, once again I need to fall back on the fact that perceptions are frequently more important than theoretical accuracy in understanding the actions of people. (See, for example, Madawi al-Rasheed, Carool Kersten, & Marat Shterin, eds., Demystifying the Caliphate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

A Bit of Fresh Air

In the short report on his studies of Boko Haram in the aforementioned alumni magazine, Professor David Cook, has finally felt free to sound a hopeful, if not optimistic note. After the elections on March 25 of this year, the government finally authorized the military to carry out a full-scale mission against Boko Haram, and has succeeded more so than many people had hoped for. To be more specific, as I understand it, the organization, which by that point was establishing territorial control over parts of northern Nigeria has been driven underground again. "Boko Haram's reign of terror is coming to a close at this time, thanks to a decisive response just in the nick of time," Cook rejoices and adds a little later that "it has been profoundly satisfying to hear that Boko Haram is finally on the run." Given the horrendous state prior to army intervention, one cannot help but to share his joy. Much oppression has been ended, and captives--particularly some of the abducted girls and women--have been returned, though bearing serious scars.

But Cook realizes that the hostilities are not over for good, and that Boko Haram still exists. Just as I thought about writing on this topic, I came across a report of a Boko Haram sponsored bombing in northern Cameroon. Furthermore, the Wikipedia article on the group contains a rather lengthy list of acts of terror ascribed to them this year, so after the momentary joy of some success, I'm afraid that we need to be more sober (it not somber) again.

Going Further

Writing in the context of exploring the options in American foreign policy in reaction to the events of Nigeria, Cook has suggested a rather cautious approach (2011, 23ff, & 2014, 24ff). Since clearly my opinion is far less informed than Prof. Cook’s, the fact that I concur may not carry a whole lot of weight. Our military resources are limited, and we do not have sufficient national interest in the fate of Nigeria as a political entity to get involved in one of their civil wars, even if we find one side quite repugnant. We cannot be the policeman of the world. A veritable crusade to West Africa to right all wrongs and establish a permanent Western-style government and economy would, without a doubt, wind up as disastrous as its counterparts in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, there are some very good reasons to keep a close eye on what is going to happen in Nigeria in the near future.

1. Boko Haram, now ISWA, still exists, not just as an idea, but as a group of people who continue to pursue their goal, as made clear by the ongoing acts of terror.

2. Anti-government armies in Africa often are made up of a large number of mercenaries who move from country to country, offering their services to various causes. They provide experience in war in addition to bolstering the numbers of insurgent combatants who are capable with modern weaponry. The experience of Captain X, according to the article I mentioned above, is an apparent case in point. Thus, at least theoretically, the number of potential warriors on behalf of ISWA could actually exceed the number of Nigerian members of the group. Given sufficient inducement, ISWA could make a large-scale comeback, in which case the United States may have to get involved simply to continue the “war on terror.” Obviously, I have to leave it with “could” and “may.” Despite the statements of our country’s highest leader in foreign policy, we have yet to neutralize al-Qaeda, making it meaningless to say that we’re going to “do” ISIS in a shorter time frame. Any statements concerning ISWA suffer from even greater uncertainty.

3. We have begun to feel the impact of ISIS in the Western world, including even on our shores. I began this lengthy essay with the observation that ISIS is at the moment territorially restrained, but that it is also still expanding and increasing its influence (and President Obama recognizes both points, at least implicitly). Hopefully you may now be able to see one key to understand this conundrum. ISIS is expanding geographically because other jihadi organizations may (explicitly or implicitly) seek to make common cause with them.

I have tried to give an intelligible account of how this method has worked out in one West African country, and there's no good reason to expect it to end soon if it turns out that potentially new members of the intended global IS are receiving benefits from claiming affiliation with ISIS.

4. In the meantime, ISIS definitely gains from such expressions of support. Let me clarify.

The most effective strategy for guerilla warfare consists of spending much time in hiding, launching surprise attacks on the enemy so as to inflict maximum damage in a minimal amount of time, and returning to concealment quickly enough that the enemy has little chance to respond. To do so, one must have bases from which one can launch these sorties, and groups such as Boko Haram, even with few facilities, can provide just that kind of opportunity.

Is Boko Haram, given its recent losses, going to carry out terrorist attacks in Western Europe or the United States in the foreseeable future? Probably not. In contrast to ISIS, they appear to be short on resources and often look for financial support by means of plain old bank robbery.  

However, if they remain a viable, albeit underground, organization, they can still be of great assistance to ISIS, which has now displayed its capability for destruction on a world-wide level.

In short, in my debatable opinion Boko Haram/ISWA considered by itself should not be seen a threat to us here in the U.S. However, since they are probably once again at a point of desperation and presumably continuing to crave a role on the world stage, we need to take it seriously as a relatively new arm of the movement towards a world-wide Islamic State, as currently led by ISIS. Given the rhetoric of the last six or more years, they may very well be available to ISIS as a second-ranked group that is willing to do virtually anything in order to receive acceptance among other Islamic militant groups.

Do I mean, then, that the U.S. should send troops along with drones and bombs to Nigeria in order to root out what remains of Boko Haram? Of course not. I don't see where we could contribute anything other than creating a lot of bad will among all concerned parties—governments and insurgents alike—with only a minimal probability of success. If I can make a suggestion, it would only be the obvious one of keeping a close eye on northern Nigeria with a view towards exposing, if possible, significant contacts with other Neo-Kharijite and jihadi groups or a visible influx of potential mercenaries.

All of those prognostications aside, my overall purpose here has not been to advise what should be done, but merely to explain one means by which ISIS can increase its power as a global threat. I hope my efforts towards providing a little bit of further understanding have not been entirely in vain. 

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, December 9th 2015


Isis and its Expansion, part 5

This is the first of two entries that I’m uploading pretty much simultaneously. Once both of these two posts are up, I will start gathering all of the recent material into one website.

Introduction: Gratitude from an Ancient “Owl”

Barring any unexpected events or questions that merit a lengthy public reply, this entry should be the last one directly dealing with Islam. Exploring Boko Haram, its background, and its potential implications, has been a learning experience for me. And it has definitely not led me to marvel at the inherent goodness of human nature.

I mentioned Professor David Cook of the Baker Institute at Rice University before. Actually it was reading his summary in the glossy pages of an alumni pamphlet from the religion department that alerted me to the subject and its implications. [David Cook, “Boko Haram” Religion Matters 2 (Fall 2015):2-3.] ---Obviously, this is not the first time that I have profited from the teaching from a professor at this fabulous institution.---The insights he provided sent me off to pursue this track, and I’m glad that he motivated me to do so. As it is, the best I can produce here is a quick snapshot, when it really should take an entire movie of the length of “Gone with the Wind” to get a decent understanding of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa.  I still love learning, and I picked up more than I could accommodate in these entries, but I hope that what I have done will be helpful to you to see this dimension of Islam outside of the Middle East.

One of the things that I appreciate particularly about Prof. Cook’s little summary in the alumni magazine is that he did not seek to hide his feelings about the subject: the frustrations, the disgust, the disillusionment, and, at the time that he wrote the piece, the exultation over the fact that things were apparently starting to head in the right direction. Sometimes the subjective reactions become a part of the facts without which an objective account is incomplete. (It was at Rice that I really learned to appreciate the value of phenomenology.) Prof. Cook’s accounts consist of two pdf articles under the aegis of the Baker Institute: Boko Haram: A Prognosis, 2011 and Boko Haram: A New State in West Africa, 2014. They are available as pdf articles, so it is easier, once one has downloaded them, to refer to them simply by their year and page number, rather than to insert hyperlinks each time. To a certain extent they are the backbone of my summary, supplemented by other books and articles. However, and I don’t mean this just as the traditional formality, whatever errors I have committed or am committing are truly my own fault, and, as always, I am happy to receive kindly worded constructive critiques.  

The Protean Identity of Boko Haram

In the last entry I brought up the idea, promoted by a number of scholars, that establishing shari'a (Islamic jurisprudence) in the northern states of Nigeria was unsuccessful partially because it was unenforceable on local levels as well as unenforced by the federal government. Of course, a group seeking to attain that goal could possibly defy the government and take enforcement into its own hands. The group that has become known as Boko Haram is a case in point. 

Aside: If you pronounce the name as “bokoe haraam,” you’re close enough to an acceptable way of saying it. Haram is indeed the same word as “harem,” that is used to describe traditional women’s quarters, and I don’t advocate changing how we say that word in English, but we should make an effort to get closer in this context. In a video to which I make reference below, I heard it pronounced in this way.

So, who is this group? What are their core beliefs? What scholarly traditions of Qur’anic interpretation do they follow? We cannot say as much as we would like to in answer to the last two questions, not because we don’t know, but because there seems to be little to know. It appears to me that, beyond a rigid commitment to Islam as an unclarified exclusivist ideology and the drive to eliminate everyone who does not accept them as the only true Muslims in Nigeria, Boko Haram has shown itself to be a group in search of a permanent identity. If we try to understand its rather thin ideology, we can only do so by, first of all, recognizing that perceptions usually outstrip reality in radical movements, religious and otherwise.

A general classification of this group places them amidst other groups that are called Salafi-jihadi (Cook, 2011, 2).  The second part of the label, "jihadi," is clear enough: they do not shy away from using armed violence to promote their cause. "Salafi," as I have mentioned in the past, is not as easily accommodated. The basic meaning of the term is based on a particular perception of the first four caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali ibn Talid), who were known as the “Companions" (of Muhammad). They have been considered to be "rightly guided," and their teaching is treated as the only true and necessary understanding of Islam. But the content derived from their teaching and role modeling is not necessarily the same for groups that use it.

I noted in chapter 5 of the second edition of Neighboring Faiths that the Muslims of Sau'di Arabia reject being called Wahhabis and prefer to be called Salafis. Although I usually have little problem referring to groups of people by their preferred appellation, I said that in the case of the Wahhabis, the term Salafi is neither helpful nor really appropriate since there is no denying that the origin of their version of Islam lies with Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (1703-1792)  and that, for that matter, they appear to follow the Hanbalite school of sharia. Here we see another reason: the term "Salafi" has been given to various other neo-Kharijite groups, including Boko Haram, who actually reckon Wahhabis with those who should be killed since they are tied to current power structures. The term Salafi simply does not say as much as might have been intended. In looking at whatever declarations and transcripts of interrogation I have been able to find, it strikes me that the leadership of Boko Haram has been steeped in folk Islam, but does not have a strong background in the study of the Qur'an, let alone its history of interpretation. I don't think that it is necessarily going too far to say that Boko Haram is driven by the desire to be seen as a major player in the Islamic world and might just be willing to accept any label that treats them as a major Islamic terrorist group to be reckoned with.

Even more than other Muslim groups, Boko Haram’s biggest target has been "Western learning," pejoratively called BokoHaram means forbidden, so this group became known under the negative label, "Western learning is forbidden.” Its original name was probably Jamā'atu Ahli is-Sunnah lid-Da'wati wal-Jihād, "People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad.” Cook (2011, 8) transliterates the name as Jama`at ahl al-sunna li-da `wa wal-l-jihad and clarifies that this choice of name (i.e. Jama`at) would place them alongside other similar groups in various parts of the world. The overall strategy of a jama group is to postpone overt violence until the movement has spread itself throughout an entire country over a long period of time. Since Boko Haram’s existence began almost immediately with violence, this formal name does not truly reveal the nature of the group. We need to consider another name that the group adopted a little further below.

In the absence of finding much material concerning the conceptual basis of Boko Haram in its early years, it seems to have become customary—if not obligatory—to present the following statement made by Muhammad Yusuf in a rare interview on the BBC:

There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam. ---Like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain. --- Like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism. (Cook, 2011, 8)

Hardly the stuff to go to war over, we might say. But things do run a little deeper than that. Abu Zayd, a frequent spokesman for Abubakar Shekau (Cook, 2014, 4), the group’s new leader after Yusuf’s death, explained that “Western learning” actually means "Western civilization," the perceived acme of everything that is false and perverted, in contrast to the purity of Islamic learning and Islamic civilization. Well, as Christians, we might be tempted to try to build a bridge and respond that we, too, do not like the immoral aspects that have made themselves at home in contemporary Western culture. But the term "boko" includes some items that we might want to acclaim as some of the better advances in the history of humanity, such as government by democracy. As far as I can tell, from Boko Haram's perspective democracy is not just a form of government, but also a deliberate means rationalize away the need for an Islamic  . And, furthermore, unfortunately a bridge is not of much use if it does not connect both shores of a river, and Boko Haram’s mission can be visualized as doing away with any potential bridge heads. Their policy, called takfiri, falls in line with other neo-Karijite groups, as it refers to cleansing Islam of impurity by use of the sword, but exceeds most of them in their brutality and lack of discernment. 

Concerning present rulers, Abu Zayd put forward the following statement, which astute students of logic could use as an example of the fallacy of composition and division.

This is a government that is not Islamic. Therefore, all of its employees, Muslims and non-Muslims, are Infidels (Cook, 2011, 11).

Since the United States is (rightly or wrongly) seen by many people as the strongest bulwark of Western democracy, it is the archenemy, even if it does not have a strong palpable presence in Nigeria. The Qutbi doctrine of the illegitimacy of any contemporary government seems to be highly visible. In fact, several times Abu Zayd stated as a goal of Boko Haram to render the country “ungovernable,” (Cook, 2011, 11 & 18) so that then the solution of a genuine Islamic government will be the obvious one. However, their recent support of a present caliphate does not fit in with the true agenda of Qutbism, and, with all of this ambiguity, I'm not sure that any presently available word (Salafi, neo-Kharijites, Qutbi, etc.) really captures their nature.

Aside: As my ever-faithful readers know, I think that the term "fundamentalist," particularly if it is used to lump together evangelical Christians, Hassidic Jews, and Islamic terrorists, combines far too many cultural and religious forms to be anything but an empty label. Someone somewhere decided to use the term beyond its original setting, journalists and scholars picked it up uncritically, and they now debate its true meaning as an overall category as though “being fundamentalist” were an objective attribute claimed by all the of the groups in question. I would suggest that a better alternative is to drop using it outside of its original Christian setting where it has a very concrete meaning derived from the book series called The Fundamentals, published from 1910-1915. 

All-in all, it's probably not very helpful to place Boko Haram into any neatly designed conceptual box. Pace Hegel, in this case the real and the rational are not identical; or, more specifically for this case, the perception of the real and the rational do not necessarily coincide. 

The final installment should be up in just a few minutes. 

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Friday, December 4th 2015


Isis and its Expansion, part 4

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Tuckered out, as usual :)

The Latest Attack

Yet another terrorist attack, this one on our soil in San Bernadino, CA, and apparently carried out by a lovely husband-and-wife team—their names are Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, but I’ll just call them Mr. and Mrs. Killer—who first made sure that their baby was safe before embarking on their rampage. What a beautiful role model for progressive parenting in the twenty-first century! At this point it appears to be clear that they acted on behalf of ISIS. Their target was the state agency that had been the source of Mr. Killer’s bi-weekly paycheck; among its tasks was to provide help to families with special-needs children. And the time of their attack was, of all things, a “holiday celebration”—you know, as in peace on earth and good will to all.

Mr. Killer did not make it to the office party; I imagine that his fellow employees reasoned that, since he was a Muslim, he did not celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza. Little did they know that he would show up late, accompanied by his wife, and that together they would create a veritable apocalypse. One gets the impression from the reports that the Killers simply fired round after round into the assembled folks, not aiming at any particular person, just making sure that they would leave as many casualties as they could before departing

Prayer in San Bernadino
People praying on an adjacent golf course.
Picture hosted by CNN

It took the FBI a while to decide whether to classify this event as an act of terror, which may have struck you as a bit irrational with more than a dozen people dead. But there often are significant reasons not to make that decision on the spur of the moment. In this instance, since this was Mr. Killer’s place of work, he might just have had a grievance against his employer, which, he felt, could only be rectified by means of a mass shooting of his colleagues. In that case, he and Mrs. Killer would still be homicidal maniacs, but not terrorists. In this particular occurrence, since the couple was killed, the immediate consequences of the label are not as visible as if they had been taken into custody. Just keep in mind the fact that terrorists are considered enemy combatants who receive neither Miranda rights nor habeas corpus nor pro bono legal representation from some hot shot lawyer who wants to make a name for himself by defending the indefensible. Moreover, the follow-up is going to be very different now since it has been established that ISIS was behind the event, and that it wasn’t just the case that Mr. Killer was angry because he had a private grievance against his employers.

A Suggestion on Our Response

I would hope that it is impossible for anyone who hears or reads of this incident not to feel a great amount of anger. Let me underscore once again that Islamic acts of terrorism should be considered acts of war. In 2001, some people were upset with President Bush for using the language of war with regard to 9/11. However, that particular matter had already been settled by Osama bin Laden himself in 1994 (a long time before 9/11/2001) when he declared a fatwa that all true Muslims should kill as many Americans as possible in the context of an ongoing war. He described the US as the head of a large association of anti-Islamic nations, and he asserted that eliminating the head would cause the body to fall apart as a result. Keep that image in mind when you hear about people in the sands of the Sahara, who may never have had contact with any Americans, declaim how much they hate America in general and each American in particular.

Still, I pray that, as we respond to these world events, we will keep from becoming like our enemies. I confess that at times I have allowed myself to dehumanize them in my rhetoric, but doing so is not good because it can turn a travesty into a caricature. The people we are looking at are neither sub-humans, nor beasts, nor demons, nor “monsters thinly disguised as humans,” as I put it recently. If they were beasts, demons, monsters, or other sub-humans, it would presumably be in their nature to commit atrocities. But terrorists (and there’s no need to limit ourselves to Islamic ones) are human beings, and by their actions they show that they are evil human beings, surpassing others in their capacity to do evil even among our fallen race. If we say that they cannot help but go around killing other people because they are Muslims, we are not only stating something that’s as untrue as it is mindless, but we are also implicitly excusing their actions. After all, people shouldn’t be held responsible for something that they are programmed to do. It is the fact that they are human and that they violate their humanity in the most despicable manner that makes them such evil persons. The gravity and the moral decrepitude that we see exhibited here is so devastating because these are human beings, like you and me in many aspects, but with a putrid, rotten, decadent sense of right and wrong.

Now, having had this attack occur on US soil makes it all the more urgent that we get a grip on what has transpired in far-away Nigeria. ­­­Eventually the connection will become evident.

Uthman dan Fodio: A Historical Precedent

Uthman dan FodioIslam came to Nigeria more than 1,000 years ago and settled in various areas, particularly in the north where it makes contact with the Sahara desert. As is true with any religion in any region, over time the actual faithfulness of the governments and of the people to Islam varied greatly. There were times and places of great commitment, and there were also times and places where Islam was practiced quite superficially. As a result, from time to time there were reformers who attempted to purify Islam, and sometimes doing so would take the form of a jihad, a “holy war.”

A very prominent reformer and amazingly prolific writer was a man named Uthman dan Fodio (1754-1817; be aware of different transliterations of his given name) who lived in Northern Nigeria. After his message of calling for greater obedience to the Qur'an was rejected, he became the leader of a jihad that ended up in establishing a caliphate in the region of Sokoto. At that time it bordered on the Sultanate of Bornu, another strongly Muslim state. The caliphate of Sokoto lasted from about 1815 to 1904, when it was abolished by Great Britain in the process of turning Nigeria into one of its colonies. Actually, to be more accurate, they allowed the caliph to continue in a role as spiritual leader, but stripped him of political authority. By that time Uthman dan Fodio had become a hero for many Nigerian Muslims for bringing about this allegedly true Muslim state almost a hundred years earlier.

Sokoto Caliphate

Furthermore, in the eyes of many Muslims in Nigeria, dan Fodio’s jihad and the resulting Islamic state represent the ideal that should be repeated and re-attained in Nigeria. They state accurately that the British had clipped their wings, and they exhort each other to work towards the goal of turning all of Nigeria into a Muslim state as exemplified historically in Sokoto.

Religious Governance: It's Not Easy

Before continuing this brief narrative, I need to make a point concerning the difficulty of setting up a religious state. There's a perennial issue surrounding any attempt to establish a country under the umbrella of a particular religion. Exactly how will one implement such a plan? One can make rules, but can one bring about devotion and piety by force? The Old Testament gives us a good case study. God’s Law was the foundational document for the Hebrew people, and it included many dimensions, all of them obligatory: criminal law, civil law, laws on worship and sacrifices, laws on ritual purity, and so on. A person not only needed to be righteous and considerate, but also to meet the strict requirements connected with the worship of Yahweh, which specified when, where, and how to do so. And yet God’s own people strayed from him time and again. [Please allow me at this point to skip the opportunity for stacking and to forego a digression on the topic of the United States as a “Christian nation.”]

Islam is in a different position than some other religions because one of its underlying concepts is the mandate to establish an Islamic state, as I tried to show in my last entry. Consequently, it has a clearer set of requirements as to what would constitute an acceptable government. --- Please keep in mind that pure Qutbism, as exemplified perhaps by Osama bin Laden, aims for the immediate abolition of all governments, so what I'm writing here applies to al-Qaeda only with some with some qualifications. --- First of all, the government must be constituted by Muslims. Cooperative jizya-paying Jews and Christians are allowed to reside in the state and practice their religion insofar as it does not interfere with the supremacy of Islam in any significant way. So far so good, but where do we go from there? Presumably one could mandate prayers and pilgrimages, allow only halal (“permitted”) food to be eaten, and proceed to spell out a specific list of what else is halal and what is haram (“forbidden”). Or, one could simplify the process and decree in one fell sweep that the country, state, or region shall be governed by shari’a—Islamic jurisprudence.

Government by Shari'a

Please note that I said “jurisprudence,” i.e. the process by which legal cases are addressed and settled. It is not a set of crimes and their appropriate punishments per se. Some American Christians are haunted by the specter of shari’a laws being imposed on this country due to an increase of the Muslim population, not a likely scenario. Still, frequently such expressions of unease are accompanied by examples, such as adulterous women being stoned, or thieves having their hands cut off. But that’s not how shari’a works. By itself it is a method, not a book of laws. Those examples, as alienating as they are to us, are supposed to be outcomes of judicial deliberation, not overarching rules. In fact, some of the most frightful instances, e.g. the scenario in which an innocent girl was raped and subsequently executed by her brother, are not the product of shari’a at all, but miscarriages of justice that should never emerge when shari’a is practiced conscientiously. Shari’a is a rather complicated matter, and it is not surprising that there are four Sunni schools of law, which I have outlined as a part of my site on “Groups of Islam.” There’s no point in my repeating what I wrote there, but, please, read that particular page or get the information from some other source before you say anything else about shari’a. And, I might mention that fatwas issued without a preceding trial by such Muslim luminaries as the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran or Usama bin Laden are as contrary to shari’a as a sentence being handed down without trial in our legal system would be. Shari’a can be a problem for non-Muslims, but evil people who will perpetrate injustice will not be constrained by any system, and they are the real problem. I think they would be just as evil under British-style common law, Roman/Napoleonic law, or African elder/ancestor-based traditional law as under shari'a. 

When the British left Nigeria around 1960, the newly founded federation faced decades of instability, and, sad to say, the right balance has still not been found. Democracies and dictatorships have come and gone, and corruption has been commonplace. We’ve already mentioned the strife between Muslims and Christians as well as the agitation between different groups of Islam, particularly between the conservative Sunnis and other groups. By the last decade of the twentieth century, finally a consensus seemed to have emerged among Nigerian Muslims, namely to unite in bringing about the one item that could theoretically engender a truly Islamic society: Muslim states should be governed on the basis of shari’a. I don’t need to point out that Christians and other non-Muslim residing in these states were quite unhappy with the idea. In some cases there may have been attempts at a dual-track systems whereby Christians were judged by a civil magistrate and Muslims by a Khadi, utilizing shari’a. David Cook published a map of those northern states in Nigeria that helps us visualize the apparent (but only apparent) solidarity of the Muslim population of northern Nigeria in agreeing to shari’a jurisprudence.  

David Cook Nigeria

It didn’t work. Among the reasons that Cook adduces for this failure, two stand out: 1) Nigerian states do not have their own police forces. All police units report directly to the federal government, and the federal government was not interested in enforcing shari’a, especially since some of its conclusions were at odds with federal laws. So, the absence of any power to uphold shari’a in those states that tried to apply it pretty much guaranteed its failure. 2) The Sunnis of northern Nigeria adhere to the Malaki school of shari’a, and this school, the second most conservative of the four, does, indeed, prescribe stoning for adulteresses. Several cases in which women were prosecuted under that category received international attention, and, in light of the pressure from outside of the Nigerian states concerned, the fatwas could not be implemented. Of course, once one aspect of the law showed itself weak enough to be overturned, there was no good reason to expect the others to be any stronger.

Cook summarized in 2011:

With the failure of essentially any possibility of enforcing the adultery laws, and the very obvious failure of  most northern Nigerian states to enforce bans on alcohol and other non-shari’a activities, 10 years after the initial implementation of shari'a it is clear that no ideal Muslim society has resulted (Cook, “Boko Haram Prognosis,” 2011, p. 8).

And he added the ominous words:

Most probably the frustration felt by the Muslims as a result of that fact has led to the rise of Boko Haram, first in Maidiguri (the capital of Borno) and then throughout the Northeast.

You may never have heard of Boko Haram before, but they, too, have made the United States one of their targets of destruction. And here’s the thing we’ll pick up on next time: They have some powerful friends. 

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, December 2nd 2015


Isis and its Expansion, part 3


We are working towards a clarification of ISIS and its satellites, using Nigeria as an example. 

Please forgive me for beginning this entry with a statement that I have made numerous times here and elsewhere. It is of utmost importance in understanding the nature of Islam and, consequently, a difference between Christianity and Islam.

Christians: Resident Aliens in the World

Christians are exhorted to live in submission (which is not synonymous with blind obedience) to whoever constitutes their government, while Islam is never fully realized until Muslims live in an Islamic state.  The apostle Peter reminds his readers (1 Peter 2:11, 12a HCSB) that they are no longer truly at home in this world.

Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.  Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles ….

Maybe it's a paradox at first glance, but it is precisely because Christians are aliens in the world that Peter urges them to be exemplary citizens wherever they may find themselves. Christians should recognize the authority of a government even if it is ungodly. Who would fit that description better than the Roman emperors of the first century AD? Still, Peter states in 1 Peter 3:13-15 (HCSB).

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good.

As mentioned above, the word “submit” does not entail unquestioning compliance with a state if it demands participation in an action that is clearly contrary to scripture. However, in that case we may have to accept suffering, as Peter clarifies throughout chapter 4 of his epistle. In a democracy we should voice our criticisms of the government when it does wrong and take whatever actions are available to promote the right. However, the idea of a Christian theocracy is not found in the New Testament, let alone promoted in its pages. To be sure, we are looking forward to a true theocracy when Christ will rule on earth during the millennium, but that event will occur in God’s own timing by his initiative and his actions.  We are not exhorted to establish the kingdom of Christ on earth before his return. – I am fully aware that many American Christians either do not understand this fact or do not want to accept it, promoting a veritable "Christian" political hegemony. They have apparently not yet come to terms with our basic identity as temporary resident aliens in a fallen world.

Islam: The Ummah as Political Entity

On the other side of this coin, genuine Islam demands an Islamic government, a condition that cannot be fulfilled by a “Western style” open democracy. Toying Falola provides several quotations from people with different outlooks on Nigerian religious policy in the front matter of his book, Violence in Nigeria. The first such paragraph comes from a Muslim publication, which—ignoring the strident tone of this quotation—does represent a basic Islamic dogma. I suppose that I could soften this statement a little by using another noun other than “dogma,” such as “perspective,” “opinion,” “preference,” etc., but doing so, even if it were to sound “nicer,” would be tantamount to concealing a crucial part of Islam. The statement comes from the Muslim Student Society publication, Radiance.

How long should we continue this trial and error and groping for a workable system? Given the present trend, what chances do we stand to survive as a nation? Can we even survive the present mess? Perhaps more important, has there been any nation in history which flourished under thoughts, ideas, institutions and political culture which are not only alien but hold in contempt the history, culture and conviction of a great majority of its people … For Muslims nothing is acceptable besides Islam (Muslim Student Society, Radiance: A Muslim Magazine for the Contemporary Mind, October 1982, 1.)

An easy response to this assertion is that the Muslim conquests and the imposition of Islam on non-Islamic areas constitutes a perfect example of such a cultural/political upheaval and the survival of its people (particularly if we ignore the hundreds of thousands of slaves captured and sold during those times). In Nigeria the expansion of Islam in its most successful times included the eradication of previous religions, cultures, and principles of law and government. Islam has been in Nigeria longer than Christianity and Western secular thought, but it can no more claim to be truly indigenous than any other religion except for those associated with the local tribal cultures, such as that of the Yoruba. In any event, it is Islamic dogma that Islam is not fully established in any location until an Islamic government is in charge. The reality of this dogma is supported both by the historical example of Muhammad and the early caliphs (the Salafi), for whom the spread of Islam as a religion and as a political entity were synonymous. It is also borne out by various verses in the Qur’an (Yusuf Ali translation).

Basis in the Qur'an

In 8:11a, Allah instructs Muhammad to accept those of his enemies who change their minds and repent:

But (even so), if they repent,
Establish regular prayers,
And practice regular charity,—
They are your brethren in Faith.

Further on, in 8:29 we see how the new social order under Islam will come about:

Fight those who believe not
In God nor the Last Day,
Nor hold that forbidden
Which hath been forbidden
By God and His Apostle,
Nor acknowledge the Religion
Of Truth, (even if they are)
Of the People of the Book,
Until they pay the Jizya
With willing submission,
And feel themselves subdued.

There is much that one could say by way of commentary on these verses. Al-jizya refers to the "unbeliever's tax" that Christians and Jews are required to pay for the privilege of living in an Islamic state (while being exempt from the zakat.) For "pagans" and lapsed Muslims, there is no such provision, and we have seen many examples recently that some militant Islamic groups ignore the Qur'an's exhortation to make this allowance. Suffice it for us at the moment to recognize that the establishment of a society regulated by five mandatory times of prayer (al-salat) and the regular collection of alms for the poor (al-zakat), alongside the oppression of the People of the Book and their submission, would not be possible if Islam would not have governmental powers. 

A potentially better case for Nigeria to become a Muslim state is also illustrated in the above quotation with the phrase "a great majority of its people." If the citizens of Nigeria were overwhelmingly Muslim, then, perhaps the establishment of an Islamic system of governance would become a legitimate demand. However, given the available plausible data there is no Muslim majority in Nigeria as a whole.

Falola Numbers describing the Nigerian population are notoriously unreliable. (See the appendix of Falola, Violence in Nigeria.) Different segments of tribal, geographical, or religious affiliations are likely to report the highest possible believable numbers—and sometimes overshooting the plausible. One motivation for reporting higher figures may be that they may result in greater allocations from the federal purse. After looking at various sources for numbers and their plausibility, I can say this much with a certain amount of assurance: The two largest religions in Nigeria are Islam and Christianity. It is likely that Islam has an edge over Christianity with a population of over 40 percent of the people, but not a mathematical majority. With a similar degree of probability Christianity can claim a number that is also over 40 percent, but a few digits behind Islam. Such conservative estimates are not beyond dispute. However, we can be fairly sure that the larger the claims are, the less plausible they are as well. 

Furthermore, even if there were a decisive majority of Muslims in Nigeria, it would be made up of factions that are seriously antagonistic to each other. The largest split places strict Sunni Muslims on one side and all other Muslim groups, such as Sufi brotherhoods, Shi’ites, Madhiyyas, and syncretists, on the other. These groups differ in various ways too numerous to enumerate here, but, most importantly, they would not agree on what an Islamic state would look like other than a vague generalization that it would be governed by shari’a, the Islamic approach to jurisprudence, rather than by British common law. Even stipulating a demographic skewed heavily towards Muslims in Nigeria, it would still be doubtful that a majority of them would favor a Sunni caliphate over other forms of governance. 

Perceptions of the ratio of Muslims to Christians are likely to be affected by the immediate surroundings in which a person lives. Depending on one’s state of residence, one could fall into the trap of thinking that what applies to the present locality is true for the rest of the nation. As mentioned above, different regions of the country and different segments of the population are frequently dominated by either Islam or Christianity/Western-style secularism. Two of the most thoroughly Islamic regions in Nigeria are the states of Sokoto and Borno. Both of them have a lengthy history as Islamic countries prior to colonization. Sokoto was known in the nineteenth century as the “Caliphate of Sokoto,” and Borno was usually referred to as the “Sultanate of Borno,” but also took on the title of “Caliphate of Borno” a few times. Historically, the two countries were frequently at war with each other, but under British supervision became provinces of the larger entity of Nigeria and are currently separate states within the federation.

I am heading towards a closer look at the Nigerian group Boko Haram, once again following my pattern of spending a huge amount of time on background (not to mention digressions and stacks without which you wouldn't recognize my blog). Suffice it to say for the moment that Boko Haram originated in Maidiguri, the capital of Borno, and that its inspiration probably derives from the history of Sokoto.

More very soon. I really think I will get to the intended subject with the next entry.

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Tuesday, December 1st 2015


ISIS and its Expansion, part 2


As usual, I did not intend to wait as long between entries as I did, particularly since I knew pretty much what I intended to write. However, once I started to pursue sources of information, I got caught up in the chain of interlocking events and their accounts and felt that I had to learn a whole lot more before putting my thoughts into words. This post is only the beginning of what I’ve written over the last few days, and hopefully I will get another entry ready very quickly.

Bibliographical Note

In writing a blog entry, judging when and where to include references is not as straightforward as it would be in writing an academic paper, so I’m going to give you some of my best sources on the topic here and then provide links or abbreviated notes in cases of direct reference.

Toyin Falola. Violence in Nigeria: The Crisis of Religious Politics and Secular Ideologies: Rochester, NY: Rochester University Press, 1998); Nehemiah Levtzion and Randall Pouwells, eds. The History of Islam in Africa (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000). Both of these books were written before the public emergence of the Nigerian group known as Boko Haram, which is a positive point for me. It is all-too-easy to view history in the light of present events and, thereby ascribe significance to them that they might not have had at their time.

For the basic facts and some clear-headed analysis concerning Boko Haram I recommend a number of articles by David Cook, associate professor of Islam at Rice University who is working in association with the James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy. E.g. “Boko Haram: A Prognosis,” 2011, and “Boko Haram: A New Islamic State in Nigeria, 2014

In the last entry I stated that, to the best of my knowledge, President Obama was correct when he claimed that ISIS, the radical Islamic group, has been contained in its area of origin, namely Syria and Iraq. Still, Isis is growing in power and geographical proliferation. How is that possible? The answer is rather simple. In various parts of the world other radical Muslim movements are pledging their allegiance to ISIS and to Caliph Ibrahim, their leader. Recent events in Africa can serve as an example.

Maps hosted by InfoPlease

The African country of Mali was recently in the news because of the al-Qaeda sponsored bombing of a hotel. How many of us needed to look at a map, however briefly, to remind ourselves of the location of Mali? I suspect that there may have been quite a few people in this country—though obviously excluding my always-well-informed readers—who were not even aware that a country named Mali existed, let alone where on the globe its citizens pursue the quest for their daily handful of millet. How many among us knew or remembered that its capital city is called Bamako? Not I. I must confess that the only name of a city in Mali that I could have readily identified is Tombouctou (better known as “Timbuktu”), which once upon a time was a rich and thriving center of trade, one of several hubs on the route connecting the Arabian Peninsula with West Africa. Timbuktu also figures largely in the accounts of possibly the most outstanding 19th-century explorer of North Africa, Heinrich Barth. (For my German readers: Es ist unmöglich, die Berichte des Heinrich Barths zu lesen, ohne den Eindruck zu gewinnen, dass er dem Kara Ben Nemsi sozusagen Pate gestanden hat.) It is telling that in American slang “Timbuktu” has taken on the meaning of “way out there, about as far from our locality and civilization as you can get,” a characterization that unfortunately covers up its historical importance.

Maps hosted by InfoPlease

Well, we’ve become (re-)educated as to the existence and locations of Mali and Bamako. I’m not terribly grateful, though. There are better and pedagogically more preferable ways of learning geography than by tracing the activities of terrorist groups, but we have been forced into it. And, furthermore, we probably should work on remembering the names of African countries and cities. Events on that continent will very likely have an increasingly powerful effect on the rest of the world in the not-so-distant future. Let us move a little further south from Mali and look at what is happening in Nigeria.

 Looking at the figures given in the Wikipedia, Nigeria has become a country to be reckoned with when it comes to its impact on the world. Alas, unless it will find a way to establish political stability, a backward slide is a strong possibility. Centuries ago, Nigeria was the center of multiple kingdoms and several larger empires prior to European colonization. According to the numbers supplied by the Wikipedia, its total population now is 182 million which gives it first place in population size among African co­­untries and eighth place in the entire world. Similarly, its economy is (or perhaps has been until recently) ranked as the twentieth in the world and the largest in Africa. Given those numbers, what happens in Nigeria cannot help but have an impact onto the world.

Islam came to Nigeria a long time before Christianity, and it slowly worked towards the elimination of traditional religions. Its spread was due largely to various jihads, some of them in a sincere effort to purify Islam in Muslim territories and some of them clearly only as the pretext of some ruler’s ambitions to expand his land. Prior to direct European influence, the two basic options were either Islam or traditional religions, such as that of the Yoruba people, which was eventually exported to Cuba via the slave trade under the name of "Santeria" (see chapter 7 of my Neighboring Faiths.)

Not-so-aside: I’m really sad that there is a need to inject the following observation, and I’m not doing so in order to impugn Islam at this point, but simply to rectify a claim one frequently hears from Muslim apologists. They may tell you that Islam came to this country originally by way of Islamic people who had been captured as slaves and transported to America. Now, I cannot state that there were no Muslims among the slaves who were brought here. However, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of eventual slaves were non-Muslims who had practiced traditional religions, and who became the spoils of war during the various jihads. Furthermore, the chances are good that, insofar as there were Muslims who became slaves, they had a different affiliation from those who were victorious in their military campaigns. But this point is quite certain: Regardless of the make-up of the slave population, those who captured slaves and sold them to Europeans and American were almost entirely adherents of Islam. (And, of course, those who bought them in Great Britain and North America frequently called themselves "Christians," but we're not rewriting history to cover up that bitter truth. Also, it was Christians of various stripes, including among others Quakers and the larger-than-life John Brown, who were in the forefront of abolition.)

Christianity came to Nigeria for the most part by way of Europeans. Although the officially announced policy of Great Britain was to abstain from interference in local governance and religious practices, Nigeria was opened to Christian missionaries, who came and evangelized, aided by works of mercy, such as medical care and education. It was inevitable that many Nigerian people picked up Christianity, the religion of their more advanced colonial supervisors, in order to attain success similar to theirs.

The geographical and political divisions of Nigeria are complex and are increasing as ever-new states are created by a process of balkanization. But a general pattern emerged by the beginning of the nineteenth century that is still visible on a simplified map.

The three most important cities for our discussion are Sokoto (northwest), Maiduguri (northeast),
and Abuja, the capital (center).
Maps hosted by InfoPlease

Speaking then in overly general terms, the northern region of Nigeria is predominantly Muslim; much of the population consists of Hausas, a Berber group, and the practice of Islam has been quite orthodox on the whole. The smaller southern area is best seen as divided into three subareas. The Western area is home to the Yoruba, most of whom have now officially abandoned their traditional religion in favor of Islam. However, in contrast to the northern Muslims, the Yoruba have tolerated a certain amount of syncretism and greater diversity in Muslim practice. The Igbo, who are now primarily Christians, live in the Southeast; they dominated world news in the late 1960s because of their unsuccessful attempt to secede from Nigeria under the name of Biafra. The ensuing war and sanctions contributed to the death of an estimated one million Biafrans. Their territory is crucial to the entire country’s economy due to the presence of large oil reserves. Finally, between the two flanks there is the corridor labeled as “Midwest.” As I understand it, in this region one may find the largest number of well-educated people, who wish to model Nigeria on European states. Along with those aspirations comes at least a nominal commitment to Christianity.

No area is entirely “religiously pure,” and Christians and Muslims are found to various extents in areas where the other group dominates. Following patterns set in all too many locations around the worldminorities in a given region may be subject to discrimination and persecution. (Furthermore, as I had to learn in order to get a "feel" for Africa a couple of decades ago, we must always remember that traditional religion continues to live in the hearts of many people, even when it is not outwardly visible, but that's another story). After consulting a number of sources, including some written by Muslims, and allowing for a reasonable number of exceptions, I find that it is fair to say that Muslims in general have advocated turning Nigeria into a Muslim state, governed by shari'a, while Christians have maintained that Nigeria should be a secular state in which there is room for both religions. Due to the legacy left by the British, particularly immediately after independence, governmental positions have been filled more often than not by (at least nominal) Christians. 

More as soon as I can get it together. 

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Saturday, November 21st 2015


Isis and its Expansion, part 1

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Moving on fumes, but moving ...

 (Please note that “ISIS,” ”ISIL”, “Daesh” and “the Islamic State” are being used synonymously for the same entity, and I will give myself flexibility as needed.)

This series of entries is intended to provide some further information concerning the militant groups of Islam who are creating havoc around the world. In the first installment I’m going to refer to some remarks made by our president and secretary of state, but only to illustrate certain attitudes. This is not intended to be a political topic per se, though it has to start that way. My basic point should be non-partisan as far as American politics are concerned.

1. Correcting a Misperception.

I just ran across the site “Truth-O-Meter,” and it appears to do a pretty good job analyzing politicians’ utterances. I’m not sufficiently familiar with it yet to know whether it has a distorting bias, but alone their reproduction of direct quotes in context makes it helpful. Here’s an example:

When President Obama said on the very day before the Paris bombings that “ISIS was contained,” given the specific aspect he was addressing, he was correct. Maybe he was still riding high on the waves of the execution of Jihadi John and various other minor successes, but those things had nothing to do with that statement. If you look at the television screen of “Good Morning America” pictured in one of the T-O-M  pages, you will see a good illustration of how his statement was misunderstood,

President Obama Doesn’t Think ‘ISIS is Gaining Strength’

the little inset informs us. Taken in any way other than the specific context in which he made the statement in question, it would have been outrageously ignorant or deceptive. However, what the president was referring to was clearly limited to the geographical expansion of the territory ISIS is claiming within the countries of Syria and Iraq. For a while now, ISIS has not been able to stretch those boundaries, and that was what Mr. Obama was alluding to. He was quite aware of and acknowledged the growth of ISIS in territory and power in other parts of the world.

And that’s what I want to write about here, though I’m afraid I need to address some more matters beforehand.

2. Exposing a Misrepresentation.

On May 5, 2011, I closed my obituary of Osama bin Laden with the following statements (edited just a little), hazarding some guesses of what the future might bring:

Someone else will come along, maybe not immediately, to fill Osama's shoes, and the fact that we don't know yet whether they will be sandals, wingtips, or boots introduces a dangerous element of uncertainty. His death is a setback for al-Qaeda.  But only a setback.  There are too many people, too many cells, too many individuals whose brains have become pickled with Qutbite rhetoric for anything to have changed in the long run. I'm afraid that we have not heard the last of al-Qaeda and its nefarious activities. This is my opinion, and I can't imagine that too many people would seriously think otherwise.

Well, of course I was wrong. Some people have attempted to convince us otherwise. The Obama administration has attempted to use the assassination of bin Laden as a license to claim that they had overcome al-Qaeda.

Somewhat aside: One speculation concerning the pretzel of misinformation that we have come to know as Benghazi Gate is that President Obama allowed (or authorized?) the misrepresentation of the facts in that case because the reality, viz. that the miscreant behind bombing the American consulate belonged to al-Qaeda, would have distracted from this supposed victory. (BTW, Ms. Susan Rice, the former ambassador to the U.N., who spread the false cover story and then blamed the intelligence services, is now one of Mr. Obama’s chief foreign policy advisers.)  

One might have thought that, as things were developing over the subsequent few years, Obama’s people would have silenced their trumpets on this matter, but until this week that has not happened. In what I wrote at the outset of this post I agreed that the president’s statement concerning the “containment” of ISIS had been misconstrued, and that within its proper context it was correct and appropriate. No such exoneration is possible for the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, who said on the day before the bombings in Mali that “they” (the Obama administration?) had neutralized al-Qaeda. Here is the direct quote,

It took us quite a few year before we were able to eliminate Osama Bin Laden and the top leadership of Al-Qaeda and neutralize them as an effective force. We hope to do Daesh much faster than that. We think we have the ability to do that.  

The statement was preceded by a caution that dealing with these terrorist organizations takes time, and that people need to be patient. However, Secretary Kerry seems to know (I do not see how) that with regard to ISIS (Daesh) the time table will be faster. I cannot help but see his declaration as false, irresponsible, and illiterate.

Illiterate: What in the world does it mean to “do” Daesh? What kind of a Secretary of State uses such street jargon in a public statement?
False: The fact that al-Qaeda has not been neutralized as an effective force has been obvious to most of us for quite some time now and didn’t need to be confirmed by the bombings in Mali on the day after Mr. Kerry’s speech. The atrocities didn’t tell us anything new about al-Qaeda, but they did reveal that our Secretary of State appears to be out of touch with reality.
Irresponsible: Consequently, his promise that ISIS will be eliminated (if that is what “do” means) more expeditiously than al-Qaeda is not only groundless, it’s meaningless.  But it attempts to convey a false sense of reassurance. (One is reminded of his presidential campaign, in which he insisted time and again that he was a better candidate than George W. Bush because he had a "plan," but he never told us what the "plan" was.)

And, thus we come to the important question of how ISIS is continuing to grow and become a veritable rival to al-Qaeda.

I am beginning to realize that, once again, this matter is going to take more than one installment, and I am running out of steam fast. Working through the political material took more out of me than I had anticipated; it takes a lot of energy for me to write in a civil manner about Mr. John Kerry, the person and the politician.

Next time, I’m going to bring up certain events in Nigeria as a case in point of how ISIS is increasing in power and influence.

0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Wednesday, November 18th 2015


The Golden Triangle and its Offspring

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Once again, pretty exhausted

We haven't had too many typical November days so far this year. There's been a lot of sunshine and it's stayed relatively warm so far--high 50s and low 60s for the most part. Today (Wednesday), when you look outside, it's definitely November. It's still surprisingly warm, but all the skies are gray, the leaves are gone, and there are four or more strong winds outside.

June has been struggling quite a bit after her last dentist appointment. Without going into details, it appears to me that they crammed what should have been two appointments into one, and she is still hurting pretty badly.

I have entitled my StreetJelly set for tomorrow (Thursday) night (9pm EST) "Blame it on the Bossa Nova" in recognition of some wonderful people in my audience who either live in Brazil or have had some connection to that country. Right now, I am totally resisting the urge to write about the distinctiveness of the Bossa Nova rhythm, but I'm intrigued by it, and so it will come up eventually. I'll undoubtedly mention it tomorrow night. (In the same context, I'm also refraining from writing about the Portuegese language, which has me fascinated from a linguistic point of view.) In addition, on that next StreetJelly set I will include some recognition of the people of Paris as they are grieving and hurting.

I do need to come back to the topic of ISIS very shortly and give you some additional information that you may not be aware of, though it's rather important for the entire picture. So, I may be oscillating between topics for a short while. Today I will slowly work up to the actual focus of these entries, the remarkable number phi (φ)


Perhaps you feel that I’m spending too much time and bandwidth on more or less relevant peripheral matters. But, you see, I’m trying to provide a background, as limited as it will be at that, which allows us to do more than simply gush at the remarkable presence of phi in nature. I guess one could view my effort here as trying to counter the attitude of "I don't know anything about math, but I know that I like phi." I teased you at the outset of this series with a clone of the famous Fibonacci series, and I will return to it. Actually, I haven't mentioned it yet directly, but knowledgeable readers recognized it immediately behind the thin disguise I gave it. However, right now I’m trying to disconnect phi from the Fibonacci numbers as much as is possible. The Fibonacci series is a remarkable function, and it is true that it converges to phi the farther you compute it. However, phi is not directly derived from the Fibonacci function—never has been and never will be. But, as I said, don’t worry; we’ll come back to it.

To the best of my knowledge, the first written record concerning the ratio that we now express with the number phi stems from Euclid of Alexandria (ca. 300 BC) in his best-seller The Elements, a book that stood for several millennia as the final authority in geometry. I will attempt to describe (please note—not prove!) Euclid’s discovery of phi, though taking a slightly different sequence of steps. (I’m following pretty closely on the heels of Mario Livio, The Golden Ratio, pp. 78-82.) But, as alluded to above, please make sure you realize that Euclid was not writing about a number, but about the proportions of lines in certain geometric figures expressed in words.

1. The Golden Triangle.

Let us examine some features of a triangle, which is sometimes called the “Golden Triangle.” Eventually I will tell you how we can derive such a triangle from another geometric form, but for the moment we can just assume that there exists such a figure among the many ideal geometric objects. It is a somewhat pointy triangle (“acute”) and its two longer sides are of equal length (“isosceles"). We’ll label the corners A, B, and C and call the three sides a, b, and c respectively. Let's also label the three angles alpha, beta, and gamma.

Gilded TriangleMy readers undoubtedly know that one feature of any (Euclidean) triangle is that its three angles add up to 180 degrees. The Golden Triangle’s base angles measure 72 degrees each, which leaves 36 degrees for the top angle. You see a picture of it on the right (copied from Wolfram Alpha and modified--or wantonly bedazzled--by me).

We could print out this picture, measure the sides of the triangle and, perhaps, come to some interesting conclusions. However, proofs in math or geometry based on physical measurements don’t count for much. Standards of measurement are invented by people, and you’re going to get different numbers if you use, say, centimeters rather than inches. Ideally, the relationships, such as the ratio of one measured line to another will be the same regardless of the calibration of our physical rulers. For example, 1 inch divided by 2 inches and 2½ cm divided by 5 centimeters both come out to ½, but the measurements on which this ratio is based will still depend on the accuracy of our instruments, which is always limited, and so we couldn't really be certain that the ratio we obtained is correct. By contrast, if ever in the course of carrying out some little household carpentry project, I wound up within 1/100 of an inch precision for all of my cuts, it would be a miracle. But in math the difference between 2.49, 2.50, and 2.51 can be crucial. There is no "level of tolerance."

However, we can resort to a mental ruler, whose fundamental unit is completely exact for our purposes, and on which we can all agree, regardless of what the usual units of length in our daily lives may be. We can posit that 1 mental unit equals exactly the length of b, the base of this triangle without taking account of its size when we drew it or even whether we drew it correctly. Obviously then, we should not be surprised by the fact that the length of b is 1 since we made it that way. Therefore, by assumption,

b = 1.

Having done that much, we still do not know the lengths of the two other sides, which are, of course, equal and, for the moment at least, we can only represent them with a variable, calling on the ever-prepared “x” to do its usual duty. [See note 1 at the bottom.] Thus,

a = x     and     c = x.

Thus, so far this is what we know about our triangle.


Golden Triangle

Length of b = 1
Length of a = x
Length of c = x

Angle α = 72°
Angle β = 72°
Angle γ = 36°

2. The First Proportion: a to b

Let us now figure out the proportion of one of the sides (we’ll pick a) to the base, b. Given the convenience of our mental ruler, the proportion ab  is equal to x1.

ab  = x1

Normally we would remove the useless 1 from this expression, since there is no difference between x1and x, but let’s allow it to stand in the redundant form, x1 for the moment because it will illustrate the ensuing point a little more clearly.

3. Opening Up the Triangle to Create Line g. 

Now we will open up our triangle.

We shall disconnect line a at point C and, using point A as a hinge, swing it downward until it has become a continuation of the horizontal base, b.


We’ll call its new point of origin on the left D. We’ll also disconnect line b at point B so that we are now only concerned with a single line instead of a triangle.

Golden Ratio

This line consists of two segments, line a (extending from point D to A) plus line b (between points A and B). We can also think of the new line as an entirety running from points D to B, and, rather than erasing the segment divider in the union of a and b, I will just draw this new line afresh and call it g.

4. The Second Proportion: g to a 

Now, we’ve already brought up proportion of a to b, which we expressed as  x1.

Since line g is the sume of lines a (value: x) and b (value: 1), the length of g is x + 1.

g = x + 1

Since the variable we assigned to line a is x, the proportion of line g to line a is  x + 1x

Larger ratio

5. The Golden Ratio

Now, it turns out that in the Golden Triangle these two proportions (a to b and g to a) come out as equal, and this is the "Golden Ratio." Euclid called it the proportion of the mean to the extreme. Expressed in words, it says that

The proportion of the larger segment (a) to the smaller one (b) 

is equal to

the proportion of the entire line (g) to the larger segment (a).

As soon as we are stating it in its algebraic form, we are doing something that Euclid probably never dreamed of, given the clumsy letter-based system of numbers the ancient Greeks had to work with.

golden ratio

6. Working Towards Finding a Value for φ 

Substituting the one variable (x) and the one value we have (1) we have for the names of the lines (a, b, g), we get:

Golden Ratio

Now that it has served its purpose of displaying its position in setting up the ratio, we can drop that silly 1 on the left side, and we get

golden ratio formula

Let’s eliminate the fraction on the right side by multiplying both sides by x. Then we have:

x2 = x + 1.

We can subtract (x + 1) from both sides [or add –(x + 1), if you want to look at it that way], and we have arrive at:  

x2  – x – 1 = 0.

This kind of equation is called a "quadratic equation," and there are several related ways of solving it. The most famous one is a formula, which is not all that hard to manipulate, but which may strike you as quite intimidating before you've made friends with it. Someone once gave me a mnemonic for it, but I've forgotten it. If anyone know one, please let me know. I wonder if I need a mnemonic for the mnemonic.

Deliberation on the Sideline: Should I bring up the formula here and now? I'm afraid that, regardless of what I write here,  I'll probably never run out of visitors to this blog because there will always be the spammers who like to peddle their wares via the comments sections of my blog, for which I pay to keep it ad-free. A highly prominent subgroup among these stowaways are some gentlemen from Malaysia and Indonesia attempting to lure one into purchasing tours of the world, the luggage you need to travel, and ways of enhancing the companionship you might encounter on such a trip. There are also the ladies from Quebec, fortune tellers one and all, who are eager to use their gifts of clairvoyance on your behalf without asking for anything in return. However, my discussions are not really geared to these friends of free enterprise. I don't know how many people are actually reading any of my streams of conscious with a more serious intent, though I can't bring myself to believe that they could all be spammers. Still, I fear that, based on how it looks at first, if I bring up the formula and plug in its values here and now, it could cut back on my already fragile readership. People who are at home with math probably know more than I do, and don't need to read this. Those who do not could just get scared away by it. Then my Malaysian, Indonesian, and French-Canadian interlopers might just be my only constituency. It's probably best if I leave the formula and its application to a note. Please see note 2 below. 

Skipping over the calculations then, I must tell you now that all quadratic equations have two solutions or "roots," one positive and one negative. Given all of the previous discussion, I'm sure you won't be surprised that the result on computing the ratio is going to result in an irrational number, viz. one with a never-ending string of digits after the decimal points that do not present a predictable pattern. If you use the Wolfram Alpha program, it clarifies for you that the result it gives is only a "decimal approximation"; and while it only carries it to 52 places, but offers to find a longer string should you happen to need it. Livio gives us the first 2,000 digits. His list starts in the middle of page 81 and ends in the middle of page 82. Still, no matter how overwhelmed we may feel looking at this string, an approximation is what it is.

Well, I haven't exactly hidden the fact that the positive number of the ratio derived from the Golden triangle is phi. Here is Wolfram Alpha's "approximation" for the positive root of the equation.


I stated a moment ago, that a quadratic equation comes with both a positive and negative root. Now when we look at the negative root, things start to get weirdly fascinating. The number starts with a 0 rather than a 1 before the decimal point, and it is a negative fraction, but the decimal digits are the same as the ones for the positive solution. 


While we’re at it, let me also mention that there is a number called the "Golden Ratio conjugate," which does not really present us with any surprises. It is defined as φ - 1. This is anything but startling. After all, any number from which we subtract 1 will be 1 less in magnitude. 1.5 - 1 = 0.5. Not worth a letter to the editor or a tweet to the world. 

So, we have

1.61803... - 1,

and its value is quite obviously everything that comes after the numeral 1 and the decimal point. Just for fun (and for visual enhancement, I'll write out the Wolfram approximation: 


Please don't start to yawn just because I mentioned one thing that happened be clear and obvious. Yes, there's no cause for astonishment in the fact that a number minus 1 will be one less than it was before. But the very innocuous nature of this fact highlights the surprise in what follows. 

A bit of nomenclature. Any number used as the denominator of a fraction in which the numerator is 1 is called the "reciprocal" of the number. The reciprocal of 7 is 1/7 , which can also be written as 7-1. We can calculate reciprocals, of course, and for 1/the outcome in decimal notation is 0.14285714..., with that exact sequence repeating indefinitely (and thus making it a rational number). 

Now let's look at the reciprocal of phi, 1/φ, and calculate its value. Here it is, once again availing ourselves of Wolfram's "decimal approximation."


Yes, this is the same number as phi's conjugate. Phi minus 1 yields the same number as 1 over phi. No other number behaves that way. Thus:

φ - 1 = 1/φ

 Let's do one more thing, namely to square phi: The value of φ2  is:  


As you can readily see, it's precisely the same as phi, only larger by exactly 1.

So, these things are true of phi and no other number: 

The negative root of the equation that produces it has the identical decimal points as phi. (-0.618034)
The conjugate of phi is exactly 1 less than phi.
The reciprocal of phi is exactly 1 less than phi, and thus equal to its conjugate.
The square of phi is exactly 1 more than phi.  

Other numbers have their own peculiarities, which may be just as startling, but the traits that you see here belong to phi alone.

Are you beginning to see now why I’m talking about beauty within the numbers themselves? Why numbers sometimes appear to have personalities, at least for those of us who have a little bit of inclination towards fantasy? That a number can be distinct from all others in more than a trivial sense, and that some are more eccentric (or gifted?) than others? That you don’t have to count generations of rabbits or petals of a rose blossom to find fascinating and startling facts about phi (though it may be fun, and we'll get to that)? Other numbers have their own peculiarities, which are just as startling, but the traits that you see here belong to phi alone. The beauty is already there in the number. The rest, which don't want to minimize but just ignore right now, is over and above the properties of the number alone. 

Sorry, we're still not ready to talk about Fibonacci and his series of numbers; we need to stay with its geometrical home for a little longer. In this entry we have stipulated the Golden Triangle, knowing in advance how the ratios and numbers would fall out. The question we need to address is whether this geometric figure is anything other than something concocted by an ancient mathematician for the entertainment of his guests on long November evenings. Can we find the Golden Triangle somewhere where it is right in place, playing a significant role in geometry?

Let's go to the Pentagon to find out!



Note 1: Since we know that both a and c are of a different length than b, we could also use another approach and let x represent the difference between b and either a or c. Then we could say that a and c are of length 1+x, where x could be a negative number or zero, just in case that the "Golden Triangle should turn out to be either obtuse or equilateral. This is not a serious consideration, however, since we already know from the values for the angles that the triangle must be isosceles and acute. So, there's no need to add that complication.

Note 2: This is a quadratic equation, and if you’ve had a bit of math, you may have spent some time puzzling them out. They have the general form

ax2 + bx  + c = 0

The two solutions (or “roots”) can be found with the formula:

Quadratic Formula from SOS Math

(The above image is hosted SOS Math, a very straight-forward and careful website.)

Note the “±" in the numerator. It is this dual operator that helps us find the two solutions, one positive and one negative.

a is the coefficient for x2 ;if there is none, a 1 is implied;
b is the coefficient for x; again, if there is none, a 1 is implied.
c is the modular constant; if there is none, then the value for c is 0.

In our specific case,

x2  – x – 1 = 0.

a=1, b=-1, and c=-1.

Once you go through the two stages of computation for each root (or let Wolfram Alpha do them for you), you arrive at the values for phi, as mentioned above in the text.


0 Comment(s) / Post Comment

Saturday, November 14th 2015


Militant Islam, part 3

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: still tired

And now to ISIS. As announced I will not give a history of this organization (except in the sketchiest terms), nor go into all of their present machinations in detail. The Wikipedia site is flush with details and will definitely send a chill down your spine. My goal here is the rather modest one of putting ISIS on the map of Islamic groups.

One very basic truth needs to be reiterated: Islam is never complete as a religion unless it encompasses a state, viz. a political entity. (For al-Qaeda, such a state would be a pure theocracy, arrived at by ungodly measures.) Thus, the fact that ISIS has the establishment of a state as its goal should not be surprising. Still, when my father and I were talking about Islam today on our weekly Skype, we agreed that neither the media nor the vast majority of politicians has yet to catch on to the fact that Islam cannot function as a private “faith,” but must establish the community (al-ummah) as a state. Islam and Christianity are very different in that respect—or should be, and I don’t want to go further along that line for now. See my article “God in the Early Twenty-first Century.”  http://wincorduan.net/God and Ayodhya.pdf

ISIS is not Wahhabi, though there are many similarities. It promotes a supposedly “pure" kind of Islam. It identifies itself as Salafi and stresses the importance of tawhid, the oneness of God and the worship of him alone. Any practice that could be deemed to be shirk (idolatry) must be eliminated. But none of these matters require any link to Wahhabism other than a conceptual one. By engaging in aggressive warfare in order to expand its boundaries and killing Muslims as well as non-Muslims for merely political reasons, it goes far beyond Wahhabi ideology. And, for that matter, so does the genocide of non-Muslims apart from any manufactured war, which includes women and children, utilizing some of the worst tortures ever invented by monsters disguised as humans. Christians and Yezidi are easy targets for them; consequently there is now a growing community of Yezidi refuges in Germany. Please see my post about the Yezidi. http://wincorduan.bravejournal.com/entry/144001

Nor is ISIS Qutbite. The movement did arise out of al-Qaeda with its underlying Qutbite­­ ideology, and it definitely shares Qutbite radicalism in designating all other Muslims to be in a state of jahiliyyah and, thus, making them legitimate targets of aggressive war. But al-Qaeda and ISIS could not coexist for long since ISIS is all about setting up a new government, while Qutbism eschews them all. In the matter of persecuting Muslims, ISIS has emphasized fighting against what they are calling “Shi'ite oppression." This notion would be laughable if it were not accompanied by such inhumane violence and brutality. It is true that since the American involvement in Iraqi politics the Shi’ites have had a greater amount of authority in Iraq than in most of Iraq’s history. However, Shi’ites do represent a majority of Iraq’s population, and, as I stated above, they have lived almost perpetually under Sunni governments. ISIS considers itself as neither Sunni nor Shi’ite, just as was the case for the Kharijites in the seventh century, but their main victims within Islam are the Shi’ites. Outside of Islam, it appears that anyone else is fair game for persecution.

Most significantly, in contrast to both Wahhabism and Qutbism, ISIS has resurrected the position of caliph. Thus, at this moment, they occupy a unique slot. Once again consulting history, after the initial skirmishes, the Umayyad dynasty held the caliphate until it was replaced by the Abbasids in 750. The only territory to which the Umayyads held on was Iberia, and they continued to designate their leaders as caliphs. Thus there was the truly powerful Caliph of Baghdad and the vestigial Caliph of Cordoba. The Abbasids eventually lost power, and in the eleventh century, the strongest caliphate was held by the Shi’ite Fatimid dynasty in Egypt. Thus, there were now three caliphs, the Caliphs of Baghdad and Cordoba—both of them dysfunctional—and the Caliph of Cairo. After the Ottoman Empire had consolidated the Muslim world under its rule, the Sultan also bore the title of “Caliph." The revolution by the “young Turks" in 1922 (that’s where the term originated) ended that practice, and, after several failed attempts to sustain the position in some way both inside and outside of Turkey, since 1924 there has no longer been a caliph of global recognition. I must add here, though, that caliphates in smaller settings are not unheard of, as I shall discuss in a future post. 

ISIS has now attempted to revive the caliphate on a global scale. Its present leader goes by several names and titles, and I will only touch on a few highlights. Born as Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, he is the Emir (“prince" or “ruler") of ISIS. His popular name has been Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and you will immediately recognize the importance of “Abu Bakr" in that construction. Lately he has added “al Qurashi" to his title, implying descent from the prophet, who, you remember, was of the Quraish tribe. The shortest version with which one can refer to him is “Caliph Ibrahim."

Note: Much of the above is taken from the earlier posts with some modifications. I have not changed the passages below (except maybe for some spelling or punctuation mistakes) because it seems to me that matters have not changed all that much. ISIS has grown over the last year. Has there been progress in putting a halt to it, other than some trophy killings among their leadership?

ISIS displays all of the worst traits associated with the stereotypes of Islam, and in a world where it seems to be impolite to call an evil person "evil," surely this organization and its leader deserve that appellation. The U.S. has taken the lead in attempting to put an end to the travesties of ISIS. I’m not fond of the idea of the U.S. being the policeman of the world, but such a horror cannot be allowed to go on unimpeded. Some European countries have now joined the American effort, and the new Iraqi government is attempting to put an end to ISIS. Perhaps together they will succeed. Also, other Muslim countries have denounced ISIS.

And that last remark once again brings me to a rhetorical question that I have repeated several times. Why are the so-called moderate Muslim nations not playing a more active part in the war against ISIS? For Muslims to sit on their hands while they make frowny faces and verbally dissociate themselves from ISIS is simply not enough. If Islamic countries want to be taken seriously by the outside world, they need to earn that respect by neutralizing those groups that clearly violate the standards of Islam.

Perhaps Western-style democracy is not yet appropriate for some countries where tribalism is too deeply ingrained; simply imposing it seems to backfire in many cases, though I wish it weren’t so. But even an absolute ruler can and should abide by the Qur’an if he is a true Muslim. “There should be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). “People of the Book" (e.g., Christians and Jews) must pay the unbeliever’s tax (jizya) and occupy a lower standing in society than Muslims, but they should be allowed to live and worship God in their own way (9:29). (And, please, there is no way in which one can plausibly rationalize, let alone justify, Caliph Ibrahim’s and ISIS’s actions as a consequence of the Crusades. Unfortunately, if you’ve had conversations with Muslim apologists, you might not be surprised if someone at this very moment is attempting to do just that. )

Muslim leaders, if you want us to see any credibility in your claims concerning Islam, please join actively in the effort to put ISIS out of business!

1 Comment(s) / Post Comment